Graduation

Living next to a college campus means that every spring I witness the aching sweetness that is college graduation. Listening to Pomp and Circumstance makes me tear up every time and the sight of young people taking pictures at campus landmarks never fails to make me smile. Chapel Hill is beautiful in the spring when each lovely morning seems more hopeful than the last. To leave when Carolina is at its best must be almost unbearable when you are 20 or 21 wondering what the next chapter will hold no matter how well defined and exciting your plans. When again will a graduate have the time or leisure to stay up all night talking, be encouraged to explore any subject you want, or be allowed to make mistakes with little consequence? Bittersweet.

Graduation

Living next to a college campus means that every spring I witness the aching sweetness that is college graduation. Listening to Pomp and Circumstance makes me tear up every time and the sight of young people taking pictures at campus landmarks never fails to make me smile. Chapel Hill is beautiful in the spring when each lovely morning seems more hopeful than the last. To leave when Carolina is at its best must be almost unbearable when you are 20 or 21 wondering what the next chapter will hold no matter how well defined and exciting your plans. When again will a graduate have the time or leisure to stay up all night talking, be encouraged to explore any subject you want, or be allowed to make mistakes with little consequence? Bittersweet.

For many, graduation is the start of a time between times, perhaps grad school in the fall or a job hunt is on the horizon. Many of us avoid the in between because of the inherent discomfort – what comes next? Where will I be? How will I get from here to there? Will I like what’s next? Yet, long ago, a minister I know described sacred moments as “times between times,” times when you must take a risk, go outside of what you know, try something knowing you might fail or might wildly succeed. In between times are spaces where adventures happen and, for miy money, there is no better teacher.

A young friend I know is planning a trip across Asia with a friend. She’s asked for some advice about China travel and I’ve given her reading list…along with a few practical suggestions. I remember well the trip I took after my college graduation with my best friend from high school: the amazing freedom of no one except the other knowing where we were at any given moment, museums, and castles, and beaches, and bars… I loved all of it but my favorite part was the train. On the train I could go slow, savor the scenery, think about what we’d seen, the people we’d met, write in my journal or chat with some unlikely new friend. If I had it to do over again, I would have travelled like that for a year. As the song says, there’s such a lot of world to see.

At almost 50, I still love a good adventure and fortunately fate gives them to me on a fairly regular basis. For the fifth time, I’m off to China. I’ve been with students twice, by myself once, with my husband once, and now with two colleagues that I treasure. How lucky I am to be thrust out of the familiar into a place where I can’t read, can speak very little, where there is so much to learn, and where I now have friends. On a previous trip, a Chinese friend who is exactly one month older than me was talking about her high school graduation. In that moment, it hit me that as a 17 year old, standing on the stage at my graduation, I could never have guessed that somewhere on the other side of the earth a girl was graduating, standing on another stage, and we would grow up, work together and be friends. One of the best things about mid-life is to see how threads come together over time, how one adventure begets another – not all of them easy, not all of them what one would wish for, but they weave a one-of-a-kind fabric that has it’s own logic and pattern.

There is bitter and there is sweet. Happy graduation and happy travels.

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